What a Kong-tastic day!
Powell “Chuck E. Baby” Leonard and Ella “Miz E with a Z” Louise Smith are standing on the sidewalk goofing off.
They’re cracking each other up with funny, frightening and frightened faces. And throwing punch lines like boxers in a ring.
He’s wearing an orange hat and jacket; she’s clad in an electrifying orange and yellow Hawaiian-style shirt.
At the same time, they realize they are dressed in matching colors. That really tickles them.
It reminds them of the time they were each wearing the same T-shirt shirt; they didn’t even notice until a store clerk pointed it out.
This time is wasn’t planned either. They’ve been together a quarter-century. These sartorial syncs are spontaneous.
Suddenly, Powell and Ella break into dance with a sidewalk shuffle.
They move together until Powell moves in on Ella, planting a polite kiss on her ruby lips.
Halloween’s just around the corner, but Powell and Ella, the producers of the web series The Kong Show on TV! and its live sister act, The Kong Show, don’t need any excuse to dress up in character or to clown around.
They created the series, whose episodes are mashups of King Kong horror flicks, The Gong Show and the old Muppets shows, so they could have fun being funny like this all the time.
Like The Gong Show, their productions feature real acts, but Powell and Ella’s TV version adds a fictional TV station and a subplot, creating a show within a show to keep the laugh lines flowing. (The next live show is Nov. 11.)
Powell tips his pumpkin-color fedora rakishly over his eyes and juts his thumbs toward the sky, becoming Chuck E. Baby, aka Gong Show creator Chuck Barris.
Ella, not to be outdone, throws her arms out to her sides as if embracing the world and pops her eyes wide.
Powell and Ella – put them together and – kaboom! – you get Powella, which is what they named their production company.
Powell, who has a long silver-gold ponytail, and Ella, who has a silky smooth voice and a smile as wide as the sun, started out as solo acts.
Powell, an only child, was born in Orlando, Florida a fairly long time ago.
After spending a short time in Germany, he and his family moved to Syracuse, New York, where Powell spent most of his time planted on the living room couch watching cartoons.
“I can still recite bits of dialogue from them,” he says.
After earning a degree in art from The College at Brockport, SUNY, he studied dance at Arizona State University.
“I came to New York to dance 40 years and 40 pounds ago,” he says, adding that he quickly discovered that he could get more work acting than dancing. “I can move, but I’m not Baryshnikov.”
Ella says that if you think he’s good on the sidewalk, you should be in his arms when he’s on the dance floor.
Powell did a lot of fun things – he picked up acting jobs, played in a jazz quartet and was the model for one of the founding fathers in Philadelphia’s Signers’ Hall.
“They cast my body in plaster,” he says. “Then they added the head of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I don’t know which one.”
After several years, Powell took a job with the city, fitting his creative life around his full-time work schedule.
On the other side of the country, Ella was perfecting her act in Denver, Colorado. The fourth of five children, she spent her youth performing in her living room.
“My father was a poet,” she says. “We always stood up and read his poems to guests.”
She also did commercials and voiceovers for the Girls Scouts when she was in a troop.
Ella, who has done modeling, thought that perhaps she would be a chef – “but I was told women couldn’t do that” – or, like Powell, a dancer.
She came East to go to Hunter College, where she studied drama theory.
No, Powell reminds her, it was UCLA (the University on the Corner of Lexington Avenue).
By the time Powell met Ella, she was a teacher and freelance writer, primarily helping nonprofits apply for grants.
Their initial encounter is one of Ella’s favorite stories.
They each had been invited to the same birthday party. Paul was a blind-blind date for the celebrant.
“I had no idea I was a blind date for anyone,” he says.
Ella had no idea that Powell was a “party favor” who was supposed to fall for her friend; she still feels a little guilty – just a little – about how things turned out.
At any rate, Ella brought a bucket of fried chicken to the party not knowing that it was a really fancy bash where all the edibles were, as she recalls, “little things on crackers.”
When the host put her chicken out of sight in the kitchen (Ella confesses that it wasn’t even KFC – it was from McDonald’s), that’s where Ella went to eat it.
When Powell found out there was real food in the kitchen, that’s where he went to eat it.
It was, they recall, grinning, love at first bite.
It was Powell’s “weird comedic streak” that Ella found so appetizing.
Powell claims that, for him and his stomach, the chicken sealed the deal.
At any rate, Powell and Ella dated for five years then moved in together.
For the record, Powell kept asking Ella to marry him, and for the record, she kept emphatically refusing.
“I was a modern woman,” she says somewhat defensively. “I was never going to be bound to any man.”
But years of nagging – and an attractive actress who tried to snatch Powell away – changed her mind.
“I fought her off,” Ella says proudly.
Powell adds, “The pastor at our church was rooting for me, and when Ella filled out the paperwork, he literally ran the three block to the mailbox – and he was overweight – so she couldn’t change her mind.”
Ella smiles; in 15 years, Powell’s never given her a single reason to change her mind.
They exchanged vows at City Hall and spent the reception at a Manhattan beer fest.
“We like to say that we had a wedding party of three and a reception for 500,” Powell says. “I told all the vendors my wedding ring was brand new. I got lots of bottles of beer for free.”
They came up with the live Kong Show 10 years ago and added the videos more recently.
All kidding aside, they hope their Kong shows are picked up by network TV or a streaming service.
Ella reminds Powell that they do, indeed, have a Kong-tastic lead.
They know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who might want to do it.
Oh, yeah, that guy, Powell says.
Astoria Characters Day is Sept. 13, 2020.
Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling